First Draft Follies: The “Women’s Crusade” of the 1870s, Part Three of Three
Part One — Part Two — Part Three
Welcome to First Draft Follies, an ongoing series at the blog. The material is presented “as is” from the first draft of the manuscript that became the book Ambitious Brew. In a few places I added one or two words in brackets — [like this] — for clarification. When the material is lengthy, I break it into several parts; this is part three of three.
The setting here is the early 1870s, when the American temperance movement, which had been derailed by the Civil War, regrouped and renewed its efforts to eliminate alcohol in the United States.
Had the women’s crusade been an isolated incident, brewers might have dismissed it as the work of cranks. But the sidewalk prayer meetings represented just one grasping tentacle of a newly revived, many-limbed temperance and prohibition movement. Hundreds of thousands of warriors banded together in the National Temperance Society or the Independent Order of Good Templars (which welcomed women).
In 1872, the Prohibition Party nominated one James Black for president. (Of the more than six million votes cast in that election, he amassed a grand total of 5,608.)
Social pillars launched campaigns against the “concert saloons,” divey joints that featured “waiter girls” who allegedly served drinks in the front rooms and sex in the back. In New York and Chicago, state legislators passed and police enforced Sunday closing laws.
In Hamilton County, Iowa, eight women sued eight saloonkeepers, charging the tapsters had led the women’s husbands down the road to inebriety. In Wisconsin, sponsors of county agricultural fairs banned beer, wine, and liquor from their events.
“On every hand, in every state,” complained the editor of Western Brewer, the nation’s newest brewing trade journal, “these communists are actively at work.” (*1)
The St. Louis Whiskey Ring scandal inflamed prohibitionists’ passions. Over a period of about three years in the early seventies, the ring’s members systematically defrauded the federal government of liquor taxes. Its network of members, spies, and agents stretched from distilleries in St. Louis to the Treasury Department in Washington, D.C., and from there to the White House, where the ring’s mastermind served as personal secretary to President Ulysses S. Grant.
Brewers, who played no part in the scandal, denounced the distillers and distanced themselves from the appalling facts of the case. In the minds of temperance enthusiasts, however, the slimey scandal provided proof that “Rum Power” still haunted the land and so steeled the resolve of crusading women and pro-temperance politicians.
*1: “Progress of the Puritan’s War,” Western Brewer 2 (February 1877): 42).